22 May 2015
I hit The Wall the other day and failed to defeat it. That had never happened before, not in all my fifty years.
Granted, I’m not an endurance athlete, so it’s not like I’ve had many opportunities to tackle the famed physical and emotional barrier that slams down when the body depletes its supply of glycogen. To be honest, I’ve probably never actually hit The Real Wall, but rather a point where my body has said, “Forget it. I’m done.”
I’ve conquered challenges before. I remember Beast Day as a grade schooler, when our swim team’s coach ordered the whole team, ages 8 to 18, to swim a whole mile. We piled into the pool with groans, filling every lane with roiling bodies lined up fingertips to toes, and swam back and forth until we thought we would die. I have no idea how long it took, but it felt like forever. Sooner or later, everyone hit The Wall, but we snarled at our lagging compatriots and pushed them beyond it. We were pretty exhilarated afterward, and that year we had an awesome swim team.
I’ve climbed a 14,000 foot mountain, starting from about 10,500 feet in elevation. That involved clawing my way up severe inclines, traversing a razor-edge ridge, piles of tumbled granite boulders, and a snow field without gloves, all while suffering a raging case of vertigo. The descent ravaged my 24 year old knees, leaving them inflamed for days. I hit The Wall in the snow field. Another climber talked me through it by saying I’d never forgive myself if I quit 50 feet shy of my goal.
I once built a garden single-handedly on a badly sprained ankle. I tore out four mature shrubs by the roots, spread an actual ton of topsoil, dug a thirty foot trench for drainage, and filled it with an actual ton of riprap, delivered by dump truck, shoveled into a wheelbarrow, and wheeled load by load round the house. Every so often I’d step onto my shovel just so and pain would shoot up my leg like a million jigawatt shock. Each time this happened, I pushed through The Wall by stopping and letting out a loud primal scream. I’m sure the neighborhood thought I was losing my mind.
Last year I rolled my ankle in the middle of a tennis match. It hurt like crap, and we had to stop so I could ice it and decide whether to forfeit. My partner and I were winning the match against two college girls less than half our age, so the thought of quitting annoyed me to no end. One of our opponents’ dads suggested I wrap it, keep it warm, and get back out there. I thought, “Why not?” By the time it was wrapped, the pain had abated. We resumed play and kicked college girl butt. I jumped around afterward on a triumphant high. Sure, the ankle stayed puffy for a couple of weeks, but it never really hurt. Totally worth it.
But the other day . . . .
The other day I found myself in a competitive tennis tournament playing for hours and hours in hot, humid conditions. My partner and I lost a two hour match the first morning and won a three hour match the same afternoon. We won another three hour match the following day that spanned from 11 AM to 2 PM—high noon, and in the South. Midway during both wins, I felt our spirits flagging, but I drove my partner on and revived our intensity to great success. In both those wins, we pushed through The Wall. Then I woke the third morning stiff, sunburned, and exhausted. My fifty year old, not-very-conditioned body had not recovered from the effects of the previous rounds. We were psyched for the final championship round; we’d talked over our game plan and warmed up carefully. But only three games into the match, my body and spirit gave out, refusing at all costs to scale the old Wall.
I cried a bit afterward from the lingering effects of adrenaline and disappointment. Mostly, I faced the frightening realization that my body had turned on me for the very first time. “I’m old! I’m old!” I lamented to all within earshot. I fought and I lost, and I didn’t like the feeling. The Wall got me, dammit.
Next time, I’m going to train for two months beforehand.
It’s just you and me, Wall, and this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.
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